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The Dallas View: Game 1 Shouldn’t Cause Panic for the Dallas Mavericks

The 24 hours since the Mavericks lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals has been an emotional roller coaster ride for me.  So much so that this column has been written and re-written entirely multiple times, and that doesn’t even count the various directions I explored before putting virtual ink to paper.

Regardless of the emotional ups and downs that come during and after a close Game 1, the facts tell us not to panic. This series is just starting. It’s going to be a war, as the old cliche goes, but losing Game 1 did not cost the Mavericks their shot at a championship.  Sure, their road is more difficult than if they had won. But it was a road game against one of the best teams in the NBA.  We have a long way to go.

It took me a full 24 hours to come to that most rational, if bland, realization. The path was convoluted and racked with worry, concern, and despair – but it’s a a path every sports fan is familiar with.

The first few hours after the loss were the most distressing.

Things got rolling with the replaying in my mind of all that the Mavericks could have done to take Game 1. Jason Terry scoring a point or two in the second half. Peja Stojakovic not shooting an 0-fer. Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler grabbing a few more boards and keeping Miami from getting so many key extra possessions after what appeared to be stops.

Dwyane Wade going for a lay-up (Pool, Getty Images)

Those little what-ifs from Game 1 turned into what-ifs from 2006.  What if Bennett Salvatore hadn’t made one of the worst calls in NBA history? What if Josh Howard had been more effective?  What if Avery Johnson didn’t get badly, badly outcoached by Pat Riley? I entered full-on flashback mode, with the Miami public address announcer’s nails-on-a-chalkboard call of “Dwyane Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaade” echoing in my head incessantly.

These dark corners of my psyche took over and the downward spiral of negative thinking was in full effect. My mind began replaying the dunk and alley-oop show that the Miami Heat put on at the end of the 4th quarter – when for two minutes they put on an unrivaled show of athleticism and sharpshooting that could only lead to their having more confidence and being the aggressor in Game 2.

And, of course, to the aggressor goes the referee’s calls – and in today’s NBA, the series. Regardless of your beliefs in NBA referee conspiracy theories, history has shown us time and time again that aggressive, confident teams (and, in particular, their superstars) get the benefit of the doubt more often than not.  And regardless of whether or not you believe the referees bungled the 2006 NBA Finals between the Mavericks and Heat, the Heat began rolling when they got more aggressive.  Now that the Heat have gotten a taste of being in attack mode, will they keep rolling with it?

From this point of downward spiral thinking, all I needed was one small spark to transform from deep, deep concern to full-blown panic.

I then made the mistake of checking my Twitter feed and saw the words that every Maverick fan dreads seeing: Dirk Nowitzki injured.

Dirk Nowitzki (Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images)

Dirk had torn a tendon in his left middle finger. He said he was fine but would be wearing a splint. Yes, he’s a right-handed shooter but he prefers to drive and finish left. I’ve tried dribbling a basketball and shooting layups with a splint on my middle finger. It’s just not the same. Sure, Dirk would be able to play, but would he be as effective? Dirk has to be fully Dirkulous for the Mavs to have a chance.

Status: full blown panic. Before I went to bed, I had begun writing version one of this column: the Mavericks 2011 eulogy.

A good night of sleep cures many ails, however, and this morning found myself in less a place of despair.

Yes, the Mavericks lost a tough game. But we knew this wasn’t going to be an easy series. We knew the Mavericks weren’t going to sweep the Heat like they did the Lakers. We knew LeBron James, Dwanye Wade, and Chris Bosh were going to be tough to keep down for a full 48 minutes.

The start of a new version of this story had begun. The Mavericks could be proud of their effort, that they put themselves in a position to win down the stretch. Dirk is as tough as they come as far as playing with pain, and it’s just a finger. He has 9 others. The defense came up huge and got plenty of key stops – and with a little bit better rebounding, the Heat could have been held under 90 points.  Hold a team under 90 points, and you’ve got a great chance to win.

Optimism was the word of the hour. News from Miami even came out that Dirk’s finger was feeling better than he expected, and that he might not even need a splint on his finger. And if he did, they might be able to splint the back of the finger, so that he could still feel the ball with all 10 of his magical, Hall of Fame fingertips.

The sun was shining brightly outside and all the Mavericks had to do to win Game 2 was play strong defense again, improve their rebounding by a notch, and get a little more production out of Stojakovic, Terry, and J.J. Barea. The Mavs’ ball rotation was solid – so they should get open looks again. Just got to knock them down this time. This is all doable!

But then, the tides turned again and my new column was ravaged by the delete key after I read a Tweet from ESPN’s Bill Simmons (@sportsguy33):

“Can’t shake the feeling that Dallas lost the title last night. That’s the worst Miami will play at home and they won by 8.”

I’ve long respected Simmons’ NBA acumen. And such an opinion from him was devastating to my afternoon mood.

LeBron James (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

What if he was right? LeBron, Wade and Bosh all seemed to find another gear in the 4th quarter. What if they play the entire Game 2 in that gear?  Dirk is in the same class as those three. You could even make the argument that he’s as good, or better, than any of them.  But there are three of them. After Dirk, the Mavericks have a much greater dropoff in talent and ability.  Jason Terry and J.J. Barea and Shawn Marion are nice pieces. But they can’t provide the superstar support that Wade and Bosh can to LeBron. Or that LeBron and Bosh can to Wade. Or even that Wade and LeBron can provide Bosh when he gets hot.

Yes, the Mavericks could improve a few items to win Game 1. But who’s to say that Miami won’t also improve for Game 2?

I walked away from the keyboard, got a little exercise, and came back.  I decided to attack the delete key again, and that brings us to the words you’re reading now.

This series is far from over. Miami and Dallas both have fantastic teams. It’s why they’re in the NBA Finals. They both overcame the biggest and baddest teams their divisions had to offer.  They both deserve to be here.

The big things are likely to be even, or close to it. Like Sherlock Holmes always implores Dr. Watson to notice, the keys lie in all little things. The details.

Both the Heat and the Mavericks have adjustments to make.

The Mavericks will need to box out better and seal off the boards. The Heat and the Mavericks will need to rotate more quickly to shooters. The Mavericks will have to dive and get dirty for more loose balls. The Heat will need to keep Dirk from catching the ball in places he’s comfortable. The Mavericks will need to adapt when Miami’s interior defense recovers from penetration faster than any opponent has in the playoffs thus far.

No matter what happens after a Game 1, it’s too soon to hit the panic button or to celebrate. This is still a series. The Heat have the early edge but the Mavericks’ season is very much alive.

Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to look back at 2006. Remember that Miami was behind 2-0 in the series before reeling off 4 in a row. So let’s sit back and enjoy the rest of the NBA Finals.

Andrew Kaufmann is a Dallas-based writer who gets a little too concerned about his favorite teams. You can follow him on Twitter @andrewk.

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